Is Your Professor Really Cruel? Understanding “Failure” in Today’s Classrooms

Ever had that one teacher who was just in the wrong profession? They make learning a living hell for their students. One professor even bragged about failing students, in front of the class!

Failure is like fire; a little is good, a lot will emolliate you. How much is too much?

There are two sides of this coin. 1) The best methods by which to learn and 2) behavior that promotes learning.

Trial-and-error is the basis of human progress. Scientists are always hoping experiments will do something unintended because then they get to write a paper. Entrepreneurs make many mistakes which bring their businesses to the teetering edge before coming close to finding success. Even the most skilled communicators make tons of mistakes every day; they’re just good at smoothing them over.

Some teachers and college professors want students to fail, but only when they deserve it. Arguably, that’s what an educator is; someone who doesn’t flinch on standards of excellence and helps students rise to that level.

So, what separates the good, the bad, and the cruel?

A good educator is someone who holds students to a high standard, encourages them to explore new ways of reaching it, permits them to fail, AND helps them understand why they failed so they can improve.

A bad educator is someone who fails one or more of the steps above. Some are obvious: setting a low bar so students can’t fail does no one any good, except the teacher’s numbers.[1] Being too lazy to help students understand what went wrong is also an obvious flaw. But teaching a strict regimen of that’s right and that’s wrong (except in an ethics class) can turn students into little more than sea sponges soaking up information. It is no good to be knowledgeable if you are not also knowledge able.[2]

A cruel educator is like the one that bragged to his class. These are teachers who, in some twisted sense of duty, actively seek to scare, discourage, or cause students to drop out. Stoke a fire hot enough and you’ll never run out of things to burn, even other people’s dreams.[3]

Others may try to force their values on students or bait them into making a mistake. Part of the Spartan’s rigorous Agoge training was for boys to eat “black soup,” a briny pork or beef dish mixed with sheep’s blood. Why? Because the boys would go hungry and steal food. If they were caught stealing, they were beaten. Not for the theft, but for getting caught.

You’d think Spartan educators would be fired. Apparently not, considering they still walk the halls of our centers of learning right alongside the educators who belong there.

Sometimes your professor is letting you fail so you can succeed, but if you have a toxic teacher…call the admins!

[1] See Bert Kreischer’s “I joined the Russian Mafia skit,


[3] I saw this on an MTG card and remembered it cause I’m a nerd.

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